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BBC – Music – Review of Mory Kanté

Written by on October 23, 2020

La Guinéenne kicks off with punchy brass, keyboard and percussion work, and then in comes the distinctive, insistent and attacking voice that shook up the African music scene back in the late 1980s. Mory Kanté is back.

And from the opening lines of Yarabini, it’s clear that the Guinean artist is out to prove that he can still produce rousing, commercial African dance music in the style that first brought him success.

His international breakthrough came in 1988, when he became the first African artist to sell a million singles with his glorious European hit Yé ké Yé ké, which reached number one in Spain and the Netherlands.

This new set doesn’t include a standout quite as memorable as that; and neither is it as surprising as his last album, 2004’s Sabou, where he delivered great dance music using an acoustic African band (playing several instruments himself).

But La Guinéenne does include a handful of strong songs, including the driving and insistent, brass and kora-backed Mbalia.

It’s a reminder that Kanté remains one of Africa’s finest and most inventive singers and musicians.

He does, after all, have a remarkable history behind him. Born into a family of griots (hereditary musicians), he first became a celebrity in the early 1970s when he moved to Mali and played in the now-legendary Rail Band, which also launched the career of Salif Keïta.

Kanté then moved to France to mix his African influences with Western dance elements, with spectacular commercial results.

La Guinéenne is both a return to basics and a showcase for its maker’s fascination with fusion. The basic tracks were recorded in Conakry, the Guinean capital, and the many of the lyrics, on the title track for example, praise Guinean women.

But the main production work took place in Paris, with some 27 musicians taking part, including a five-piece Norwegian brass section. 

As a result of this large group of contributors, some tracks sound plodding or over-cluttered with instrumentation. But there is constant variety, from the balafon-dominated Tedekou to the reggae of Malibala and the catchy African pop of Oh Oh Oh.

It’s a delight to find Kanté in such great voice throughout.

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